This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeira (5763)
This week we read of how Abraham, the father of Judaism, argued with G-d in a futile attempt to save the evil Sodom and Amora from heavenly retribution.
Does this make sense?
G-d had a good reason for destroying these cities; they were full of sadistic criminals. Why did Abraham want otherwise?
Even more; how can a human being, a creation (even a unique one like Abraham) argue with the Creator?
What is the Torah trying to teach us here?
We can ask a similar question on the 'HafTorah' (the portion, usually from the prophets, read after the Torah reading on Shabbat).
This week's HafTorah tells the story of how the prophet Elisha saved a lady debtor from destitution by advising her to borrow hundreds of large empty vessels from her neighbors and then fill them miraculously from a small vial of oil (her last possession).
Why didn't Elisha just give her money, or produce gold miraculously? Why did he make the poor woman go through such trouble?
To understand this here is a story.
Chassidim are Jews that are happy to serve their creator. In the book "The Tanya" it is explained that Abraham, the first Jew, although it went against every fiber of his being, was actually 'happy' to sacrifice his son Yitzchak and this 'joy' is what made him the father of Judaism.
The scene; some twenty years ago in the central synagogue of the Chabad Chassidim in Brooklyn. Hundreds of Chassidim of all ages gathered (as they do every Shabbat now-a-days as well) to make a 'farbringin'; a gathering replete with singing, dancing, words of Torah, Chassidic stories and, of course, 'LeChiams' (usually vodka).
The spirits were high when a young man, a Chassid in his early twenties stood up, cleared his throat and announced. "I have a miracle story about the Rebbe!"
He was referring to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson, and although there are thousands of such stories everyone was very eager to hear another.
"The story begins in Israel" He said. "A ten year old boy, we'll call him Yoni, from a wealthy family suddenly began suffering from severe headaches. He was taken for an examination and was diagnosed as having a malignant tumor. Of course the family was turned upside down on the spot and they began running to doctors.
"Money was no problem, but it seems all the money in the world couldn't help. After several months of painful and debilitating X-rays and chemicals with no positive results the doctors finally advised them to stop the treatments and just let the boy live out his life in peace.
"The doctor even advised them to spend the next few precious months traveling the world together. Yoni's father and mother cancelled all their business and social plans and in no time their bags were packed and they were all on their way to Europe. They saw Paris, London, and Rome, traveled in the Alps and across Spain and flew to New York with the rest of the U.S.A before them on the itinerary.
"On the second day of their stay in Manhattan they were walking down Fifth Avenue when suddenly through the noise and traffic something caught the boy's attention. A camper-truck decorated with all sorts of colorful pictures and loudspeakers blaring happy clarinet music from its roof was parked at the side of the street with several bearded young Chassidim standing by its open door talking to people on the street. Yoni told his father he wanted to see.
"As they were nearing one of the Chassidim looked at Yoni's father and called out "Hello my friend! Are you Jewish?"
"The blood rose to his head.' Jewish?!' He answered scoffingly. Go to Israel and join the ARMY!! That's Jewish!! Let's go Yoni! Let's see something else." Yoni's father, like so many Israelis, was allergic to religious Jews. He took his son's hand and began to walk away. But the boy's curiosity had been aroused.
"But daddy, aren't we Jewish? What's wrong with being Jewish? Who are these people?'
"When the Chassid understood they were Israelis he exclaimed, also in Hebrew.
"'Ahhh! Boruch HaShem! Jews from the Holy Land! Welcome to America!!' He said, grabbing Yoni's dad's hand and shaking it vigorously.
"'Nu! What do you want?' Yoni's father asked angrily . He was irritated but he didn't want Yoni to see it.
"'I want you to put on Tefillin!' said the Chassid with a warm smile. 'It won't hurt, you'll enjoy it, Jews have been doing it for over three thousand years, it doesn't cost money, it only takes two minutes, it's the best buy in Manhattan and your son wants you to do it! Right Yoni?' (He had heard the boy's father call him by his name).
The boy looked up at his father with big goggly eyes and shook his head 'yes' and of course the poor man had no choice but to comply.
It wasn't long before they were talking and the conversation got around to Yoni's condition.
"Wow! I'm sorry to hear he isn't feeling well.' said the young man. But I don't think you should give up so easily. G-d forbid!! First get to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He has saved people in worse shape. Give it a try!! Here! Here is the telephone number and the address. Call up and ask for one of the Rebbe's secretaries. You know what? Here is my phone number. Call me and I'll go with you to the secretaries. I guarantee it will work and well… you have nothing to loose.
"That evening the boy's parents talked it over and decided to give it a try. The next morning they called the young man, went to the Rebbe's headquarters in Crown Hights and got an appointment to see the Rebbe that evening.
"That night at twelve o'clock they were seated before the Rebbe's desk with Yoni's X-ray's and medical papers spread out before them.
"The Rebbe examined some of the documents looked up at Yoni's father and said.
"'I don't see anything so serious. It's just a problem of diet. If he begins to eat only kosher food he will be perfectly healthy.'
"Yoni's father looked at the Rebbe in wide-eyed disbelief. He knew that religious Jews are superstitious and ignorant, but this was really going overboard!! This so-called great Rabbi is not just contradicting the greatest professors in the world, he's contradicting common sense!!
"He stood up, coldly shook the Rebbe's hand, took the boy by the hand, shot a glance at his wife and they left the room.
"He was blazing mad!!! 'Nothing serious!! Just a matter of diet!' he said over and over as they left the building. 'Ha! I'd like to go back to that young fool that we met on the street and bust him one in the face!!
"But his wife didn't exactly agree. "Maybe there is something to what he says.' She said as they returned to their hotel room. 'After all, we really do have nothing to loose. And he didn't ask for money. Maybe we should give it a try.'
"The next day she bought kosher food from a local market and wouldn't let her husband take them to a non-kosher restaurant. She kept it up for a few days until one day Yoni said he felt strange.
"His father made an appointment with the professor of the nearest hospital rushed his son there and in less than an hour the professor was looking at the X-rays.
"'A definite improvement!' he murmured, obviously impressed. 'What type of a treatment is he taking? Who is treating him? I have to admit I've never seen anything quite like it!'
"Yoni's father burst out into tears and his mother grabbed her son and began kissing him.
"'It was the Rabbi!! I knew he was right!!' she said and began weeping as well.
"When they returned several months later to Israel Yoni was completely cured of his disease and his father and mother were cured of being non-observant Jews.
Everyone thought that the young man finished his story. But he hadn't.
"Just one more thing" he concluded. "I am Yoni! I'm the boy that was saved by the Rebbe's blessing'. He announced with a beaming smile.
This answers our questions.
The reason that Abraham prayed for the cities and Elisha told the woman to borrow vessels and fill them is because the purpose of creation is to reveal G-d's unity in this world through hard work. G-d WANTS us to change the world. In fact it is one of the Commandments of the Torah to pray to G-d to change His will.
Therefore Abraham, when he prayed for the evil populace of Sodom and Amora argued that perhaps there are righteous people in each of the cities; perhaps there are a sufficient number of righteous people to convince them to change their ways and to begin to serve G-d.
But the lesson from Elisha is even deeper.
Not only did he insist that the woman take part in as much of the miracle as possible. But he also taught her how to serve G-d:
Take EMPTY vessels and fill them with your last vial of oil.
The emptiness is humility; the knowledge that all we have, all our successes and qualities are no more than gifts from the Creator.
And the oil is the essence of the Jewish soul; the certainty that Torah, G-d and the Jewish people are one. (Like the one untouched vial of oil that made the miracle of Chanuka).
This is the goal of Moshiach. To heal the entire world by convincing them to do what G-d wants as the Rebbe did with Yoni and his parents.
That is the message of this week's section; 'VaYeira HaShem' 'G-d appeared'. Soon the Moshiach will bring about what we pray for thrice daily in Alenu 'To SEE your glorious power; that G-d will again appear as He did to Abraham but this time to the entire world.
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